Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation transiently improves contrast sensitivity and normalizes visual cortex activation in individuals with amblyopia

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2013 Oct;27(8):760-9. doi: 10.1177/1545968313491006. Epub 2013 Jun 17.


Background: Amblyopia is a neurodevelopmental disorder of vision that is associated with abnormal patterns of neural inhibition within the visual cortex. This disorder is often considered to be untreatable in adulthood because of insufficient visual cortex plasticity. There is increasing evidence that interventions that target inhibitory interactions within the visual cortex, including certain types of noninvasive brain stimulation, can improve visual function in adults with amblyopia.

Objective: We tested the hypothesis that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS) would improve visual function in adults with amblyopia by enhancing the neural response to inputs from the amblyopic eye.

Methods: Thirteen adults with amblyopia participated and contrast sensitivity in the amblyopic and fellow fixing eye was assessed before, during and after a-tDCS or cathodal tDCS (c-tDCS). Five participants also completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study designed to investigate the effect of a-tDCS on the blood oxygen level-dependent response within the visual cortex to inputs from the amblyopic versus the fellow fixing eye.

Results: A subgroup of 8/13 participants showed a transient improvement in amblyopic eye contrast sensitivity for at least 30 minutes after a-tDCS. fMRI measurements indicated that the characteristic cortical response asymmetry in amblyopes, which favors the fellow eye, was reduced by a-tDCS.

Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest that a-tDCS deserves further investigation as a potential tool to enhance amblyopia treatment outcomes in adults.

Keywords: contrast sensitivity; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); neuroplasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult